Photo Information

Marines from the 81mm mortar platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, move through the Military Operations in Urban Terrain town during the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel course, April 29, 2008, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C . The Marines were learning skills necessary for their upcoming deployment in fall, 2008.

Photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

No one left behind, 26th MEU trains to recover aircraft and personnel

2 May 2008 | Cpl. Aaron Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

When any Marine goes on a mission, he takes the knowledge with him that no matter what happens, he will not be left behind. Because of the unique nature of the Corps’ Marine Air Ground Task Forces, the mission of recovery of lost personnel and equipment has become an integral part of the operational doctrine.

Today, after lessons hard-learned in the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and other hotspots, the Marine Corps has the ability to retrieve virtually any asset used in an operation.

For the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission is vital. Since the MEU is the Corps’ smallest MAGTF, it is normally sea-based aboard Navy ships, and must be able to keep all of its precious assets.

Col. Gregg A. Sturdevant, commanding officer of the 26th MEU, said the TRAP mission-set is very important to the MEU, not only to recover equipment, but also to reinforce to the message to personnel someone will get them if something happens.

“It’s a big deal.  If someone goes out on a mission and something happens I want them to know and have confidence that we are coming to get them,” he said. “We never leave anybody behind.”

Keeping equipment is also essential to maintaining the MEU’s war-fighting ability, he said.

“We have limited assets,” said Sturdevant. “We need to be sure we do our best to keep our gear in a high rate of readiness.”

The Marine Corps attitude toward recovery is unique among the services.  Often each service has its own force dedicated to recovery missions only, but that is not feasible for an expeditionary force like a MEU.

“Based on the nature of how we deploy as a MAGTF we’re capable of doing self-recovery, and therefore, we are not reliant on other services,” said Sturdevant.

In order to be able to perform the TRAP mission-set, the 26th MEU designates elements within the MEU to train for them.

For two weeks in late April, Marines and sailors from the 26th MEU worked with instructors at the II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group to become intimately familiar with the unique requirements of a TRAP mission.

TRAP missions are separated into two categories, aerial insertion via helicopters and surface insertion.

For that purpose, two separate forces from the MEU’s Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, are trained in TRAP.

Each course lasted five days, over which time each team performed five training missions which presented different scenarios testing different skillsets, sometimes in combination with each other.

For surface insertion, the MEU called upon the Light Armored Reconnaissance detachment, which consists of Light Armored Vehicle 25s and its organic infantry scouts, in combination with one of the MEU’s two Combined Anti-Armor Team platoons. The CAAT platoon consists of a highly mobile force of heavily-armed Humvees mounting weapons such as  MK-19 grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns and Tube Launched, Optically Tracked, Wire Guided Missile Weapon Systems.

For aerial insertion via helicopter, the MEU relies on its 81mm mortar platoon, which normally consists of dismounted infantry.

For either type of insertion, the TRAP team relies upon support from the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 (Rein).

For surface insertion, AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters in concert with UH-1N Hueys provide aerial fire support and reconnaissance for the ground forces.

For helicopter insertion, the ACE’s CH-53E Super Stallion and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters provide transportation for the infantry and support the operation with their heavy machine guns, while the Cobras and Hueys again provide reconnaissance and fire support.

Staff Sgt. James M. Wise Jr., lead helicopter rope suspension techniques instructor at SOTG, and a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crew chief, said the TRAP training required the students to tackle a wide variety of objectives during each course.

“Students learned how to authenticate downed crewman, received a brief tracking overview, and are exposed to the Rapid Response Planning Process,” which enables a TRAP force to plan and carry out a mission within six hours of receiving the warning order, he said.

In addition, Wise explained the TRAP teams are taught Level A Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape techniques, and techniques to sanitize or recover sensitive equipment that may be deposited by a crash or malfunction.

Despite the fact that the two TRAP forces are trained in different methods of insertion, either one can do either mission, said Wise.

“The method of insertion is moot. The actions on the objective are the important thing,” he said.

1st Lt. Kyle Wolfe, 81mm mortar platoon commander, said doing this training during the predeployment training cycle for the MEU is especially important because, while some of his Marines have deployed to or received training for Iraq, 98 percent of his platoon hasn’t trained for MEU-specific missions such as TRAP.

“This is important because most of these Marines have never done it before,” he said.  “We need as much training as we can get so it becomes second-nature to us.”

Wolfe said the training went very well, and said the Marines learned a lot and improved their skillsets by the last mission.

“It was a great foundation for us to build on while preparing for this deployment,” he said.

The 26th MEU will continue to train in preparation for its scheduled deployment in fall 2008 in support of the Global War on Terror.

For more information, videos and stories about the 26th MEU, visit